Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana

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Howard & Marilee Williams

An Autobiography: April 2001

Overview

Howard and Marilee Williams were married October 31, 1970 after a summer courtship and their six collective kids having summer picnics, swim parties and trips together. This is the story of their lives before meeting and their lives together since.

 

Howardís early years in Indiana

I was born Howard Walter Williams in Evansville, Indiana on October 18, 1937. I was the eldest child of Walter and Marie Williams. The Great World Depression had pressed down on the world like a lead weight for five years previously and there was no relief in sight. Had we known the relief would come in the form of a world war we would have opted for the depression to continue. There was war ongoing in Europe and in the far East.

No one could have predicted that I would see a world war as a boy just as my father did. His war started when he was 3 in 1911. "My" war spread across Europe and into Russia on the one axis and from Japan to China and the South Pacific at the opposite world axis. Gradually by December 7, 1941, when I was 4 and my father was 33, it became a world wide war. Two generations Ėtwo world wars. And a world depression in between. Not the best of times. Yet in my little world, in southern Indiana on the Ohio River, life was good and those factors didnít cause me a lot of grief.

My parents had worked hard all their lives, were able to get and keep jobs and they saved every cent they could. My parents saved enough to buy a home before having me. Something very rare in any timeframe, especially in the depression years. I lived in a nice home on Lafayette Street in the north end of Evansville and didnít feel deprived of anything. I didnít know what a depression was. Because of their industriousness and their frugality which made sure the necessities were available. Looking back, I can see the reasons ice cream wasnít bought every time it was asked for. And why that teddy bear in the window cost too much.

I did know what World War II was by the time I was 5 or 6. My friends and I played with small model war airplanes and wooden guns. My dad made me a wooden machine gun that would make a rat a tat tat sound of a small stick clacking over a cogged wheel when I turned the crank. My friends would dig trenches and fox holes. An abandoned car in the backyard of one friend was a "tank" and we could throw dirt clods at it. When I was 7 the war took a turn for the good when the Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day June 1941. The LST ships dad helped build were vital to that and other campaigns.

I started Henry Reis School in kindergarden in September 1942 and remember the first day vaguely. Finger painting is the most memorable to me. In later grades we played marbles on the bare dirt ground by drawing a circle and shooting marbles out of the center. On frozen winter days we would slide on ice and see who could slide the farthest. Cousin Bob Bollinger was two grades ahead of me. Twice a day a bugler would play taps and everyone would salute the raising and lowering of the national flag. I attended that school until early 1946 and completed the third grade before moving to California.

Relative to the War, I started school just 10 months after Pearl Harbor and left Henry Reis less than a year after VJ day. No wonder everyone was so patriotic with the flag. We didnít talk of the war at school. But in those early school years there were tens of millions of people killed by war and the diseases that go with it. I remember celebrations vaguely of VE day when Germany surrendered.

The school is still there as of 1984 and is very much the same as in the 40s. We had one car that Dad generally drove to International Steel to work so I walked to school. This included days with snow which was always a treat. We loved to pick cockle-burrs about the size of a small pea and throw them at each other because they would stick on our clothing. We carried a lunch pail. I remember traumatic incidents best. Seeing a dead dog by the side of Heidlebach Avenue. Seeing a kid throw his lunch pail in the air and hitting another on the head causing blood to gush. Having an older kid tell me that he knew a guy who had a deep hole punched in his heel when he was crossing the street and that it could happen to me.

There is a vivid recollection of Mom and Aunt Ruth talking seriously in the living room when Mom knew that brother Harold was coming. They knew that but Iím sure I didnít. I heard "blah blah ..take Howard to my houseÖblah blah, did you call the doctor.  Is he coming soon?" I would have been 3 or 4 so I was very concerned for that to be burned in my memory. Also the terrible crying when he was circumcised. Again, I didnít know what was going on and neither did Harold. Sister Janet was born in 1943 when I was in the first grade.

Mom had two identical twin brothers, Earl and Neal who lived several blocks away. Bob Bollinger was Neal's son and only child. Mom also had a younger sister Ruth and their mother, my grandmother, Lula Barth-Bollinger, who also lived close by. My grandfather on Momís side died before I can remember. All lived within two blocks of each other.

Dad had a very large family. His mother died when he lived on the farm in Posey County, Indiana near the town of Mount Vernon. His father couldnít keep the farm going and moved them to town. But shortly he died of spinal meningitis and his older sisters raised them. Stella was the oldest and became his new mom. Dad had seven sisters and two brothers. The boys were all the youngest. If they were the oldest, chances are his dad could have made a go of the farm. The farmhouse he was born in is still in very good shape and Harold and I have separately visited it. Uncle Bob was dadís non-identical twin. They really looked identical in many ways. I remember visiting Bob in mid 80s when he was in his 70s and seeing such a strong resemblance. Dadís other brother was Bill and was nicknamed Stocky from the time he used to like to hang around the stockyards and see the cattle and the operations there. He was 6 ft 5 inches tall and stood out in a crowd in that generation.

I remember we would visit Aunt Lula and Aunt Eva in their homes closer to downtown Both their husbands worked for the railroad. Many did in those days. They had no children at home at that time so how to keep little Howard quiet while they talked was a problem. I would get stern lectures on the way home about being too rambunctious. Going to Aunt Graceís large two story house was a different story. She had kids of every age and type. We would have fun with the piano and just playing kids play. Marlene was the closest to my age. Marlene later spent years taking care of Stocky and his wife in their last years and was very selfless in that. Going to visit Aunt Lillian gave me a curiosity about their pot bellied stove. Shirley was about my age also and I remember our playing there.

There were some traditions that were special. Christmas Eve was often at Aunt Ruth and Uncle Franks. There would be presents for all the kids. Aunt Ruth really loved to decorate for Christmas and it was special to her. Momís uncle Benjamin Barth "Ben" would have family picnics that I believe were annual. Probably on his birthday. They were in a park. Maybe Garvins or Mesker. He would make a delicious beef vegetable soup that was special in that the ingredients were ground up before cooking. The texture and taste was fairly homogeneous that way and it was easy to eat. Several generations of our family ate momís version of Uncle Benís "Burgo" soup as he called it. The name implies a German ancestry with a meaning something like "town" in the manner of the name berg. I seem to remember one very big pot it was made in. It was in good weather and a lot of beer was consumed which probably made the soup even better. These Burgo fests were done even in wartime and were very much enjoyed.

One other culinary delight that is popular in the Evansville area is thin sliced pork in barbecue sauce. It is a specialty of restaurants in town and of many townsfolk probably. The barbecue sauce is not especially sweet or thick like those currently popular. It is soupy and soaks into the thin sliced and well done lean meat. All my life I have been able to recall and crave its taste. Same with all the uncles and aunts that came west. There are probably several herbs and spices that are used in a secret formula to give that taste. Also, compared to the other meats we ate that were a little "lower on the hog" prime cuts of pork would be delicious no matter how cooked. Compared to ground beef heart and brain made into fried patties, it was especially good.

Once there was a family get-together at a farm north of the airport and I remember the chicken and dumplings. Also the tour of the root cellar where there were lots of canned pickles. Donít know who lived there but it was a special time.

The Williams relatives lived closer to downtown and the homes were on very narrow lots not much wider than 30 feet or so. But they were very deep allowing for gardens and grass and had alleys in the back and sidewalks I the front. Aunts Eva and Lula lived in these small houses all their adult lives. Modern women would look down on their small size but they were very practical in many ways compared to new houses of today in California. They were very affordable and could easily be bought by young couples and paid off in more like 10 years than 30. Utilities would be one-tenth that of modern large homes. They had an attic for storage. I would guess that they were less than 500 square feet.

The cars were very practical also. We had a 1935 4 door black Chevy which was reliable and very capable to meet our needs. It was much like a Model A Ford but advanced more by a couple years. You sat up in it and could see well out of itís square windows. The four cylinder engine was low pressure and very very simple. Many repairs could be done without special tools or knowledge. Nothing was hydraulic so there were no pumps or filters or lines to leak. Even brakes were mechanical. When you pushed on the brake there were mechanical levers that went to the brake pads on the wheels. If you dinged a fender you didnít have to get a special paint touchup. All cars were black.

Telephones didnít have dials or buttons. You turned a crank which generated signal to the local operator. She connected your line physically to the line of the party you were calling.

There were no televisions in home use. People were working on their invention about then. Our radios were in large and bulky wood cabinets. Partly to allow for a reasonably large speaker made of paper that would serve well. Some had 78 rpm phonograph record players. Ours didnít. The large size helped make them sturdy. Us kids would lay down on the floor to put our ears close to the radio speaker to hear programs that appealed too us and not our parents. We liked G-Men in Action about the FBI catching criminals. And Fibber McGeeís comedy. His wife Molly and he would have funny conversations about everyday life. He had a closet full of his things and whenever he went to get something out of it there would be a loud crash of his unorganized things onto the floor. Also Amos and Andy. The special programs were the scary ones like the Shadow and the Whistler. "The Shadow knows many things for he walks by night". A little organ music and we were riveted. Jack Benny also was funny with his dry sarcasm that fit well into any mid-west home.

Todayís kids would feel those programs were laughably simple. But we enjoyed them as much as those of the 21st century. They really used our imagination. We would stare into the speaker and "see" the faces of each person talking. They would look the same each week. And everyone had a face. No one was faceless just because it was radio..

Of course the special treat was to see the movies at the theatre. I only remember one in the early 40s. It was "The Wolfman" with Lon Cheney. Scared the pee out of me almost literally. I believe all were black and white. The newsreels from the war were the only way we could get a glimpse of what the war was like and they were well sanitized.

A favorite pastime for young boys during the war was to hold small warplane models and make them swoop and dive shooting at make believe Germans and Japanese.

Soon to come:

H family Going to California

H Pre High School

H High School

H College

Aerojet Azusa

Divorce and Meeting M

M Early years

M moves to SB

M High School

Betty and the Girls

Norton AFB

Childcare

Divorce and meets H

Brady Bunch Years

The late 70s

The 80s

The 90s

Looking to Retirement

 

Copyright © 2001 Williams Family from Evansville, Indiana